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Farewell IES Abroad Tokyo

December 16, 2017

Thursday | December 14th 2017 | Higashi-Funabashi, Chiba

Today we had our last IES Abroad Tokyo party with the IES Abroad students, staff, KUIS faculty, KUIS students, E-pals, the lovely homestay families, and everyone in between. Though it was a simple and heartwarming gathering, none of my emotions felt simple. They were complex, confusing, and for the majority of the night, surreal. I wonder if others felt this way, but the entire experience felt surreal, as if I were not really there in the moment. It felt as though I was like a ghost, hovering over everyone as they hugged, said goodbye, and signed each other’s yearbooks. Instead of living in the moment, living as an IES Abroad Tokyo student saying goodbye, I was an observer. I was watching everyone experience these things in a way that felt unfamiliar to me. My entire semester in Tokyo has been defined by living in the moment, by spontaneity, by being always down, by being part of a larger group of friends. And yet, in the final moment, I was forced to reconcile with myself. In a room with people I love who love me I somehow felt isolated — not necessarily in a bad way but it was a very reflective moment.

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In my own mental space I had to reconcile with my flying home. As I put pen to paper in someone’s yearbook, it became more real that I wouldn’t be seeing them everyday. It became real that we would not be riding the packed trains together in the morning. We would not be walking to KUIS anymore. No more hangouts in the IES Abroad Tokyo center, no more Tokyo period, none of it.

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Of course I’m sad about it, but I wonder if I didn’t feel much in that moment because I knew how strong our friendships were. Does that make sense? Given how confident I feel in the strength and longevity of the relationships and friendships I’ve cultivated this semester, I had no doubt in my mind that these connections would last beyond Japan. Maybe that’s why I wasn’t able to fully exist in the moment at the party. In some twisted way I knew this was not the end. Sure, maybe it’s the end in terms of formality, but there is always another hangout with the IES Abroad Tokyo family.

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Study abroad is a tricky institution and phenomenon. For a few months of your life, you open your mind to another culture, live in the moment, and really devote your entire self in order to get a fulfilling experience. While one could downplay the overall experience as pointless given its temporality (why am I making all these friendships if I won’t see them ever again?), I wonder if that attitude is harmful towards one’s overall experience. Because for me, this isn’t temporary. I’m seeing Tokyo friends in January back in LA already. We’re already making mental promises to come back to Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics. And of course, a cynic would say these plans are idealistic and will fall through — to that point, it’s a very realistic possibility. I’ll own up to that, I’m pretty cynical myself. Of course these relationships could really all be temporary. But, the tight-knit community cultivated by IES Abroad Tokyo is real. It’s palpable, and I’m confident, hopeful, and ready to put in the emotional labor to sustain these friendships beyond this semester.

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Thank you to the IES Abroad Tokyo staff who were all our parental figures for the semester. Without your guidance, energy, and friendliness, my time abroad would be drastically different, and for the worse. But you all welcomed us into Japan with open arms and we all became like family within the first few weeks. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

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